VCAP5-DCA Results!

Wow! Results came in seven days from the day I wrote this exam.  I expected my wait to be the normal 14+ days so I was stunned when I woke up this morning to see the email from VMware with my VCAP5-DCA Exam Report.  And it arrived in my mailbox last night!!  How could I have missed that?!  I was naturally very hesitant to open the report especially after feeling the way I described in my last post.  However, my hesitancy quickly turned to elation as I opened the report and saw those four golden letters:  P A S S !!!  What a way to start off my day!  And what a way to kick off the year!!  Technically this was accomplished in 2013, but I’m also putting this up as my first accomplished goal of 2014 since I didn’t get the results until today.  Hey… whatever works to get you pumped for the new year, right?!  It’s just awesome!

I listed off my study resources in my VCAP5-DCA Preparation post and I listed off some recommendations in my VCAP5-DCA Experience post, so I won’t go into those again.  I do want to offer a big thanks to the vCommunity as a whole for providing the resources, encouragement and support for tackling a daunting goal like this.  And I also must thank my employer, UNICOM Systems and my team at the office for giving me the opportunity and support needed to pursue and ultimately knock this goal out.  It is a huge win for my team at the office and my organization as a whole.

Now on to the next goal!  I would quickly start working on my VCAP5-DCD certification, but it looks like my next target recommended by the boss is my NetApp NCDA certification.  My organization, UNICOM Systems, is a commercial IT consulting arm for UNICOM Global, and we just recently strengthened our partnership with NetApp. To have a strong VMware and NetApp engineer on staff will be a big asset for our Raleigh office.  And yes, VCAP5-DCD is most certainly still on the hit list for later this year!

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VCAP5-DCA Experience

So I took the VMware VCAP5-DCA exam last week.  I studied rigorously for this one, especially in the final weeks leading up the exam.  I had to reschedule a couple times due to scheduling conflicts with work projects, but I managed to get this in before the end of the year (and thus still be able to use the promo code I had from VMworld).  I used all the great study resources that most people have referenced and added another resource to the list I shared in my previous post.  Mike Preston’s, “8 Weeks of #VCAP” offered some great overviews on the those more obscure skills that many of us don’t use every day, like vSphere AutoDeploy and Image Builder. That helped to fill in some of the gaps.

My experience was somewhat similar to many others in that I ran out of time.  I knew going into this exam it would be unlike any other that I had taken.  The sheer magnitude of material was enormous, and the ability to readily pull from that knowledge to quickly execute tasks would really be tested.  What I did not realize was how quickly that time would fly by when engaged in these tasks.  That 3.5 hours was the fastest 3.5 hours ever!  Oh, how I wish I could have extended the time just another 15 minutes to squeeze in a couple more questions.  I believe I hurt myself early in the exam by not hitting the ground running from the start.  I started with an approach that Tim Antonowicz shared on his post about testing strategy during the exam.  I won’t go into the details here, but essentially, this amounted to reviewing each question in order to create a good outline of the exam and then using that outline to take a strategic approach in answering the questions.  It seems like a great approach and apparently has worked for him and others.  I, however, ended up spending too much time on this review, time that could very easily have been spent completing one or two more questions.  Now… that said, one great benefit I got from applying this approach was that it did put me at ease early in the exam.  I was confident I knew how to complete all of the scenarios that I just reviewed.  There was nothing that I saw that was beyond what I had prepared.

So… after reviewing the exam I settled into my first question and was surprised when I saw that almost 30 minutes had ticked off the clock after completing that first question.  I knew I had to work faster, but I really didn’t find my groove until the second half of the exam.  In the end, I left a number of questions on the table unanswered.  I finally understood what everyone means when they say that time is not your friend on this exam.  I truly believe it takes first hand experience to fully understand what is required on an exam like this.  This included getting good at maneuvering between the testing window, the various Remote Desktop windows, the Putty session window, and the vSphere Client windows, all on one screen.  And of course dealing with the notorious lag that everyone mentions.  Although thankfully, this wasn’t quite as bad for me as many have shared nor did I have any lockups that some have experienced.

I can share my recommendations, but it will be like most others – practice, practice, practice until you know the skills on the DCA blueprint cold.  I would add to that, attempt all skills on one screen.  During the test, I would recommend scribbling key configuration details from the exam scenarios on the dry erase pad to avoid having to switch back and forth between the testing window and the lab environment.  I believe that alone consumed too much of my time.  Another huge recommendation that has been shared numerous time is to not wait for certain processes like an installation to complete.  Any waiting time should be spent working on the next question or task.  Of course, keeping track of what questions have been completed and which ones have not becomes critical.

In the end, I agree that the exam is very fair regarding the content.  There are no surprises if you know the blueprint.  The only surprise that came for me was the time element.  If you get good at that, you’ll be good at the exam.  I don’t know yet if I passed, but if I did not, at least I will be armed with the understanding and full appreciation of the level of time management and sheer focus and adeptness that is required to successfully knock this one off.

Update (Jan 7, 2013):  I passed!!! My exam results came one day after posting this piece.

VCAP5-DCA Prep

I can proudly say that after a year or so of poking at the content of the VCAP5 exams, I’ve finally gotten myself into gear and have been faithfully in hot pursuit of the esteemed VCAP5-DCA cert.  And the pursuit has already been very rewarding.  Like any exam, this one takes huge amounts of study, which equates to discipline and sacrifice.  It truly requires a sacrifice of time as this really amounts to about an eight week commitment for many.  That’s a commitment of evening and weekend hours and whatever work hours one can ethically squeeze out of the boss.  In my case, I’ve had the fortune of having some good time each day to tinker away in the lab.  Of course, everyone needs a lab.  A few weeks into my study and I thought I’d share some of the methodology that has been working well for me.

Make the Commitment

For any worthwhile pursuit or goal, a deadline is critical.  The old quote “A goal is a dream with a deadline” (Napolean Hill) is very true. Over the last year without any type of deadline, the idea of pursuing this certification remained just that – an idea.  It never gained any traction until one day not too long ago (and with the additional push of a discount promo code), I scheduled my exam date.  It is now on the calendar which makes it all the more real.  The clock is ticking, I hear it and I know I have to hustle each day to work through another portion of the exam blueprint.  Step one, make the commitment by getting the exam date on the calendar.  Then…

Define the plan

A variation of the old quote by Napolean Hill is by Harvey Mackey, “…A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.”  This is fairly elementary but what is the plan?  Of course time needs to be carved out as mentioned above, but what do we do with that time?  The first stop here is indisputable VCAP5-DCA Exam Blueprint.  This is a must have and this advice is Numero Uno from everyone who has walked this road before.  Know everything on that blueprint so well that you can perform each item quickly without having to reference the online docs. Since that is a massive amount of material to learn, there have to be some shortcuts to learning this.  Well… there are no shortcuts, but there are some great study guides available.  These serve the purpose of being good refreshers and concisely honing in on what some consider the most important points to know.  These are not official, but are still phenomenal guides, put together by some of the best contributors in the community.  The ones I am currently using are:

  • The vBrownBag VCAP5-DCA series.  Great videos by some awesome folks in the community.  Nick Marshall has easy links to each video aligned with the VCAP Exam Blueprint objectives here.
  • VCAP5-DCA Study notes, by one of the regulars in the vBrownbag circle, Shane Williford.  One additional valuable item he brings to the table is the CLI Study notes.  This is a one-stop quick reference to the many CLI commands needed for the exam.  Great addition!
  • The Pluralsight (formerly TrainSignal) VMware vSphere Optimize and Scale video training, by Jason Nash.  Jason is well known and rock solid in his teaching and his training series covers the entire exam blueprint.  I might add a quick plug for Pluralsight training here… If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend a monthly subscription.  For as low as $30/month, you have access to the most incredible library of training materials, from programming to career development to infrastructure training.  I use this library almost everyday on the job, to brush up on VMware, Citrix and Cisco concepts.  Highly, highly recommended!
  • And to keep track of it all, which is part of any organized plan, I’ve been using Chris Wahl’s VCAP5-DCA Study Sheet.  Checking items off when accomplished always feels good so this gives the sense of little victories on the road toward the ultimate objective.

So that’s a lot of training and study material to work through.  How does one manage to absorb all of this in a relatively short period of time?

Exercise Superb Time Management

This is probably my weakest skill.  With all the distractions of our world, it is so easy to get lulled away from even the most well devised plans.  One of the best and surprisingly simplest tools I’ve used to keep myself on track is the Pomodoro Technique.  This is a little technique that is based on the finding that we are most effective and focused when we work in 25 minutes chunks of time.  The brain then needs a break, so a five minute break is sufficient before tackling another 25 minute focused chunk of time.  After several of these “chunks,” it’s recommended to take a 15-30 minute break.  It’s well known that taking breaks during intense times of work or focus helps the mind stay productive.  For me, the added benefit of this timed period is knowing that my one and only objective during the 25 minutes is studying. This does wonders to keep me from getting distracted.  The Pomodoro technique simply uses a clock that measures these alternating times of focus and breaks.  The tool is free for download for any device and there are many variations available.  They all use the same concept.

Another focus enabling tool I use is binaural beats.  Just do a YouTube search and dozens of these recordings will come up.  I don’t quite understand the science behind it, but apparently these are tones with out-of-sync wavelengths that are sent to opposite audio channels. When listening with headphones, these create a pulsating sound that is believed to help induce a higher state of concentration by “tuning” the brain. Whether this is true or not, the reality for me is that it helps me to tune out the distractions around me and and stay focused on the task at hand.  One can just as easily do that with any kind of ambient music… or your favorite metal band.

So there it is, a list of the tools and techniques I’m using to help me as I work toward the goal.  I will follow up with another post once I successfully pass the exam.

All the best to everyone else in pursuit of these certifications!

#vBrownBag Wednesdays

I’m super excited about VMworld!  Fueling that excitement has been taking part in the Wednesday night vBrownBags hosted by Cody Bunch and team over at professionalvmware.com.  The guys are currently running through the VCAP5-DCA Exam Blueprint, which is motivating me to start studying for my first VCAP!  The community around these vBrownBags is awesome to say the least.  So much that I’m a little intimidated to jump in, but these guys have a blast, they spur and encourage each other, and they know their stuff!  Obviously, a great community to jump into!

Tonight’s presentation was VCAP5-DCA Blueprint Objectives 1.2 and 1.3, presented by Hersey Cartwright.  I was overwhelmed by how much was still so new to me.  Great job by Hersey and this followed last week’s awesome session by Josh Atwell running through the VCAP5-DCA Objective 8.1.  Good stuff and some fun announcements about VMworld.

Hersey gave some great links to VCAP study aids.  I’m going to list them off here since I’ll need an easy point of reference when I start studying for my VCAP5-DCA.

VCAP5-DCA Study Checklist – @chriswahl 
http://wahlnetwork.com/2012/07/02/the-vcap5-dca-study-sheet/
 
vExperienced – @egrigson 
http://www.vexperienced.co.uk/vcap5-dca/
http://www.vexperienced.co.uk/2012/04/12/vcap5-dca-whats-new/
 
The SaffaGeek – @greggrobertson5
http://thesaffageek.co.uk/vcap5-dca-objectives/
 
VirtualLanger – @jaslanger
http://www.virtuallanger.com/vcap-dca-5/
 
VALCO Labs – @joshcoen
http://www.valcolabs.com/vcap5-dca/

Some great links by some very solid and well respected contributors in the community.  Thanks guys.

Ok, time to study!!